On 27th January 1945 Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated by the Soviet Red Army, and each year since 2005 the date has been commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This blog is dedicated to the memory of all those who died during this inhuman period of European history.
The Holocaust is largely remembered for the genocide of 6 million Jews, but there were also an estimated 11 million others including Slavs (mainly Poles and Russians), Roma, political and religious dissidents, homosexuals and the ‘incurably sick’.
My inquiring mind into why Europe descended into so much chaos during the 20th century has led me to some dark places – and here’s another one – but unlike Auschwitz, there are no gas chambers or mass graves here; in fact, this lovely villa perched on the shores of the Großer Wannsee, couldn’t be more different.
Situated on the south-western outskirts of Berlin, the villa was used as the location for a conference on 20th January 1942 where fifteen representatives of the SS and other Nazi ministries sat around a table chaired by Reinhard Heydrich to discuss the “Final solution to the Jewish question”.
The reason for Hitler’s dislike of Jews has been discussed by any number of academics over the years and several theories have been put forward, but whatever those reasons were, his policy of forcing them out of Germany and elsewhere never fully satisfied his ambition to totally eradicate their existence in Europe once and for all, and so a solution needed to be found.
The meeting started at midday and was over by 1.30 with a Protocol (document) issued by Adolf Eichmann, head of the Gestapo’s section for Jewish affairs, outlining the proposals that had been agreed. In simple terms, the Protocol set out plans for the systematic murder of 11 million European Jews, an objective, as we know, that was never fully achieved.
The House of the Wannsee Conference, as it’s now called, won’t be on everyone’s list of places to see while they’re in Berlin, and understandably so, but I came here to find out how the perpetrators of this plan could sit around a table and discuss matters like this in the cold light of day without an ounce of compassion or feeling of guilt.
To get here involved a 45-minute ride on the S7 from Alexanderplatz to Wannsee and then bus #114 to the other side of the lake.
The villa is in a quiet residential area and is described as a ‘Memorial and Educational Site’, and obviously not a mainstream attraction because I had to ring a bell before I was allowed through the gates and into the grounds of the villa.
As there were no other visitors here, I was able to wander around on my own at will, which made the visit so much more poignant. There was a small exhibition detailing the plight of the Jews under Nazi occupation, but needless to say, the focus of attention is on the room where the conference took place.
Under normal circumstances I would have considered it to be an elegant room with lovely views over the grounds towards the lake – but the events that took place back in 1942 weren’t normal circumstances, and I wasn’t in here very long before I decided to leave the house and wander around outside.
The lakeside was the perfect place to enjoy a picnic I’d brought along with me. It was a lovely day and it was so peaceful here, but somehow I just wasn’t hungry, so I fed my lunch to the ducks instead.
Staring out across the lake, I couldn’t help but wonder how a group of men could discuss such a barbaric plan in such a lovely setting. I came here hoping that I might find some answers, but unsurprisingly I didn’t – probably because there aren’t any.